Ultrarunner Buzz Burrell reviews Christopher McDougall's latest book.
Author Christopher McDougall’s new book was released on December 6. It’s called “Born To Run 2.” Sound familiar?
It should. McDougall’s first book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” was a breakout success. It sold over three million copies, was on The New York Times Best Seller List for four months, has turned the staid $50 billion a year running shoe industry on its head, and changed the sport of running forever.
So is “Born To Run 2” a sequel?
No. Yes. Not exactly.
Let me explain.
McDougall’s first book was a world-wide hit and a page-turner. He wrote of his discovery, deep in Mexico’s remote Copper Canyon, of the legendary Tarahumara Indians, their outstanding running ability that totally contradicted existing standards of gear and training, and the running gringo Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, who lived in a stone hut and became his guide and teacher.
Micah died in 2012. I organized his Memorial Service, and there were no heirs present, biologic or otherwise, even as worldwide goodwill poured forth. The Tarahumara, or Ramáruri, are definitely still there, and the famous race mostly still exists, though not in the epic form described in the book. So sorry — there is no sequel to that amazing story.
But maybe this book is a different type of sequel. After a short and inspirational part one, reminding us why we all can “run free,” including plenty of gorgeous full-page photos by Luis Escobar, part two is seven chapters explaining exactly how to do that. Indeed, while McDougall is the famous author, this book is co-authored by Eric Orton, a running coach who specializes in “Born to Run Coaching.” The subtitle is “The Ultimate Training Guide.” So maybe the first book wonderfully describes the “What”, and this book tells us “How.”
But who cares what I think? I asked McDougall himself.
“It’s a mid-quel,” he said. “This is what I would have put into the middle of the first book, but I didn’t know this stuff back then. I wrote “Born to Run” as a newcomer; this is what I’ve learned along the way.”
He learned a lot: expanding with chapters on food, fitness, form, focus, footwear, fun, and family. In those pages the authors present a holistic plan for how you too, can “run free.” Not surprisingly, what you get is not the usual numbers-based training plan, where everything is a time, distance, heart rate, heart rate variability, glucose index, etc. Rather, group runs are recommended, because “All great running cultures, from native American tribes to Finnish track stars, built their might by mimicking hunting packs.” And instead of zone training, McDougall writes, “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard. On the topic of interval training he writes, “Running fast can help autocorrect your biomechanics, while slow leads to sloppy.”
Subjective? Sure. Do you prefer the total data-based approach? Fine, that’s everywhere. “Born to Run 2” gives us a choice.
We’d better talk about footwear because “Born to Run” generated massive discussion, controversy… and change. I was working in the shoe industry when it first hit shelves, and the upheaval cannot be overstated. Running shoes weighed at least 12 ounces, had many overlays that accomplished nothing except adding weight, and “pronation control” was gospel. There was no correlating scientific evidence but the companies kept at it. Until “Born to Run” knocked their socks off. The following year, the radical Vibram Five-Finger ’shoe’ briefly became the bestseller at specialty retail stores.
The pendulum had suddenly swung in the other direction. Then just as suddenly, the introduction of Hoka One One maximalist shoes swung it dramatically back. Since then the market has learned, stabilized, and found a middle ground with great shoes from new companies providing what runners need in a lighter and more minimalist package (usually with cushion). Whew; thank you “Born to Run”; it all worked out great.
“Born To Run 2” indicates McDougall and Orton still like minimalist footwear. And they very correctly emphasize, it’s not about the shoe; it’s about how you move.
“The shoe conversation has gone on so long, it surprises me,” said McDougall. “Tell me that perfect form is not important, in any sport. Get in touch with how your body feels while running. The more you can sense, the more you can learn to control. That’s always been the point.”
McDougall sent his new book at the perfect time for me personally… After doing 15 races in 9 months this year, I was kaput. Running felt like work. Entering lotteries for races that cost hundreds of dollars, all to win another age group award, seemed vacuous. Inventing (and sampling) new cocktails every evening became more interesting.
When I arrived on page 13, a beautiful photo of Micah, just sitting there, caught my attention. I raced this guy twice (we were 1:1) and knew him long before the Caballo Blanco bandwagon took off. This arresting image threw me back to someplace real, a time of meaning and joy in my running, that had been lost while I studied training plans and results.
On the page across from that photo, McDougall quotes Micah’s advice:
“Think Easy… because if that’s all you get, that ain’t so bad.”
“Then work on Light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high this hill is or how far you’ve got to go.”
“When you’ve practiced that so long you forget you’re practicing, work on making it Smooooth.”
“You won’t have to worry about the last one – get those three and you’ll be Fast.”
Boom. That’s all I needed to hear. I now know my training plan for the winter 2023 is going to be great.
I like this book. You probably will too.
Oh wait, one last thing: Why the heck hasn’t Hollywood made the “Born to Run” film? With 42 million regular runners in the US alone, the market is there and it’s a fun story, so I asked McDougall, what’s up?
“Matthew McConaughey was very eager to play Caballo Blanco,” said McDougall, “but the screenplays weren’t good; they weren’t any fun. So after seven years of Hollywood inaction, I own the Rights again. One minute ago I got an email from a production company. They are pitching it as a television series. Stay tuned.”